As another trip to New Zealand approaches, I thought it might be appropriate to relive some memories while laying the groundwork for new ones. New Zealand trout fishing, in particular stalking trophy browns on the South Island, has an almost mythical reputation - partly deserved and partly not. Which is as good a place as any to begin ...
It's as hard as you choose to make it - and then some.
There are lots of places to catch plenty of two- and three-pound trout in New Zealand. Coastal river mouths. Meandering spring creeks. Roadside pullouts and lakeside banks. All provide ample opportunity and great fun, and for many people, these are the logical spots to target. You can probably get away without a guide at many of these locations, which makes them ideal for intermediate first-timers or fly fishers carting a rod around on a family vacation.
For many people, this is a perfectly adequate introduction to Down Under fly fishing.
Others, however, expect more. They've seen the double-digit monsters on the covers of national magazines (more on that later). They've heard the stories about epic fights on mountain streams they could cross in ten strides. All true, at least in theory, but this is where managing expectations comes in: the vast majority of anglers - guided or not - will never hook a 10-pound brown, let alone land one. If you're seeking inclusion on that particular Wall of Fame, you'd be better off swinging wet flies in Patagonian gales. Sorry, but them's the facts.
Fitness will dictate how and where you fish.
Fitness or cash - there's really no way around it. Kiwi guides are paid extremely well, because it's their job to spot trophy fish that you probably won't. Sight-fishing is the norm in backcountry brown-trout angling, and owing to the sparse number of fish per mile of stream or river, casting blind is out of the question. In other words, a guide is crucial until you've been there enough to figure a few things out on your own.
A good guide will put you onto decent fish, but to target the beasts you'll also need to get off the beaten track, and on the South Island that equates to helicopters and lodges. When all's said and done, ten-grand or more is typical for a basic week's package.
The other option is to truly do-it-yourself. You'll need: a good set of lungs; a good pair of legs; decent backcountry skills and woodsmanship; more-than-decent fly-fishing skills; an upbeat attitude about getting skunked; the stubbornness to walk and sight-fish five miles of river in a day while casting to - on a good outing - maybe a dozen big trout.
The rewards are many, but they often have nothing to do with pounds and inches. If you're a fly fisher beholden to a tape measure, stick to counting fish back home or take up tailoring.
Intrepid anglers have many options in New Zealand, including literally hundreds of lesser-known watersheds and remote possibilities. Random tramping (backpacking) and tenting is widely available, and the famous networks of high-country huts afford the perfect shelter and night's rest - often for the price of a postage stamp.
Mainstream media is largely full of crap.
This may not be popular, but again, it's the facts. Magazine covers are - to put it bluntly - fudged: I know of several instances in which those brute-sized browns were actually hooked and/or landed by the guide, who then handed the fish over to the client to be photographed, who then, presumably, boasted about his "trophy" to friends and family back home. Yes, such low-lifes exist - fly-fishing's equivalent to hunters who bait bears or poker players dealing off the bottom.
And regardless of what the websites claim, fishing for backcountry browns isn't for novices. Even experienced fly fishers will be challenged to the max. Long, pinpoint casts are commonplace, and headlong winds make chinstraps mandatory. Add to that fifteen-foot leaders and easily frayed nerves, and you begin to get the idea; this isn't for the faint of heart.
I once came across a group of heli-anglers lazing on a bank beside a run. Their guide was in the water, cajoling them to "come give it one more go" as he gestured to a huge brown finning at the top of the pool. They laughed in unison, and no one budged. "Mate, if you think you can catch him, feel free," one of them said. "Power to you."
Now that's a story you won't read in Fly Rod & Reel.
As always, for the best that Canadian Rockies fly-fishing has to offer, book your next trip with Orvis-endorsed Dave Brown Outfitters.